Another pebble hit the window and bounced away, doing no damage. The sound of small feet receding down the alleyway followed; some catcalls floating up on the wind, but nothing definable.
Just another Saturday morning, the usual time for stones and shouting. There may be fewer rotten leaves stuffed through the letterbox, since it was not quite spring yet, but that did not preclude the possibility of twigs or dog muck. The substances, though, relied on the creativity, or perhaps ingenuity, of the kids involved.
Little sods, Lamia thought, wondering if their parents knew, or cared, what they got up to when they played in the street. The long, silent days of lockdown had proved a blessing, no children around for weeks on end.
Truthfully, she did not understand the issue with kids sitting at home, adrift in computer games and social media. The more they stayed away from her door, the happier she was.
“I hope you love the place, Ms. Lammy,” said the rental agent at the viewing. “An abundance of trees, shops, and families make for a pleasant community.”
“Quite,” came Lamia’s reply, not convinced but keen for a change of habitat.
In reality, this was a mediocre area, with neighbours who kept to themselves. However, it did not take the local children long to discover her and begin the harassment she was accustomed to wherever she made herself a home.
So, as per normal on a Saturday, she found herself at the kitchen window, considering her view of the park and its playground equipment. The brightly coloured installations remained damp from an earlier drizzle, swings moving listlessly as the local starlings squabbled over perching rights.
Lamia did not care to be part of the world. Windows existed only as annoying holes in perfectly adequate walls. She would brick them over, reverting to something akin to cave-dwelling. A chuckle slipped out as she imagined the neighbourhood troublemakers flicking pebbles at the concrete, having no detrimental effect on her shelter at all.
She adjusted her glasses, thick lenses with new and expensive coatings. They enabled her to view the birdlife in the trees opposite with greater clarity. If she wanted to read, however, she swapped spectacles and turned on a bright light. Books were her refuge, the rocks she clung to in the roiling waters which swamped her dreadful life.
The weekly drop-off was due in a few hours. She hoped the package would arrive promptly today. Last week had been an unmitigated disaster. The misdirected delivery was irretrievable and not easily replaced. A miserable weekend ensued, not improving until they sent a substitute on Monday. She loathed the fact she depended on others for her well-being.
With a jolt, she remembered she needed to rinse and return her recyclables and quickly found the small, empty jars. All bore an icon of a baby with a spoon. The brand had not changed its logo for over eighty years, the image instantly recognisable to loyal subscribers. She gave each jar a scrub with soapy water, rinsed off the suds and let the liquid drain away into the sink.
The clean glassware clinked in its holder as she padded down the hallway towards her front door. It opened for a second; she checked both ways along her alley and placed the empties on the step for this afternoon’s collection. The door locked once more, she returned to her kitchen.
The appetite inside awoke and sleepily stretched itself. Saturdays were always the worst day for her. These final few hours of waiting hurt the most. The effects of last night’s supplements waned. The growls in her stomach raised angry voices. Glad she kept nothing in the house which would satisfy this craving, she allowed herself a calming breath. She had invested too much time and too many tears to throw everything away in a moment of weakness.
Distraction usually helped her to push through the empty minutes on days like these. She went through to her sparsely furnished lounge. On the coffee table, she located her favourite book. Making herself comfortable in her tattered armchair, she sighed and opened the volume at her bookmark.
She had found sanctuary in Thomas Bewick’s “A History of British Birds” for many years. The exquisite wood-engravings of the various species gave her a sense of calm. Lamia would often recite the names and classifications aloud. The sound of the ancient words soothed her.
Today, she intended to enjoy one of her favourites, The Great Bustard. The illustration was particularly detailed, each feather delicately traced on its wing. Her thin finger ran over the picture as she traced every line. Satisfied, she sighed with pleasure. What a magnificent creature. As per Bewick, the bird also proved quite tasty when roasted.
Her gut growled again. She squinted at the clock. It was already noon. Her restlessness grew. Lamia returned to her book. Perhaps there was some distraction in the yellowed pages. Her attention drawn to a handsome “Musk Duck”, she started to study its description.
Crack! A stone struck her window with some force. She took a deep breath and continued to read. Her intestine, now a piece of ragged cloth, turned inside out with hunger.
Ping! There it was again. This time, she caught the sounds of laughter and footsteps as they approached the front door.
“Please go away,” Lamia said in a tiny voice. An icy tear appeared on her cheek and tracked down toward her chin. “Please.”
The letterbox gave a metallic snap, followed by a wet thud. Lamia stood, peering down the hallway. On the mat lay a half-eaten hamburger. She could not help but catch the scent of the meat and salivated involuntarily.
From the other side of the door, the giggles and whispers intensified. The slot opened again, a small hand poked through and deposited yet more rubbish. Dirt and tissue paper tumbled down to the floor. The culprit’s sleeve snagged on the way out and they needed to wriggle to extricate themselves.
Lamia sniffed, suckling at the air briefly puffing through the small space. Something roused her appetite. Yearning brushed cold fingers over her skin.
She moved closer to the door. The rattle came again. The hand was having some difficulty fitting the next object through successfully.
She tilted her head, watching, listening, inhaling, tasting. Her lips drew back. She ran her tongue across them. Drool leeched from her jowls, hanging from her maw in long silver ribbons. She latched on to the scent of the food. She snuffled at the door.
The hand wriggled, finally squeezing the fingers, the palm, and a dead rat through the gap.
The hunger won. Lamia leapt forward, mouth open, teeth bared, ready to feed.
She bit down, clamped her muscular jaws shut with a sickening crunch. She crushed the tender young bones, swallowed the hand whole, including the rodent in its clutch. A howl and a terror-filled wail assaulted the silence. Other feet took shrieking flight, the noise echoed in retreat along the alley.
Lamia flung the door asunder and stared down into the tar-like eyes of a pale brown-haired boy. He screamed and clutched at the stump of his right arm, his heart’s blood coming in short, intense spurts. Vermilion droplets flew up into her face, a sprinkling of coppery rain.
Lamia, her thirst raging, licked the warm blood from her lips. She put her mouth to the fountain and fed. Tearful smears mingled with congealing claret spatters on his blanching face as Lamia sucked the juice from the husk of the child.
She rocked back onto her haunches, her tongue chasing every small glob of the iron-rich nutrients now sticky on her limbs. The satisfaction was short-lived for the daemon, it was time for her to move on once more. She would be gone at sunset, there was too much to explain away this time.
Nobody noticed the opaque woman who made her way across the park, a heavy book tucked under her arm. Looking neither left nor right, she dissolved into the filthy dark.
And, thus, she returned to the crushing, eternal torment of solitude .